Who do you know?

The Usual Suspects (Images: IMDB)

An interesting thought occurred to me while reading Charles Kadushin’s Understanding Social Networks today. Engaged in a discussion on one aspect of network theory, he references a study by Killworth and Bernard in which they planned a survey intending to finding out how many people their subjects know. “‘Know’ is defined as having had contact within the last two years” (Kadushin, 2012, p. 110). My immediate reaction was that this was a very vague way to trying to determine whether or not you know someone.

Leaving aside the esoteric question of whether or not you can ever actually “know” someone. I thought it might be interesting to try to determine how I would come to an understanding of how many people I know.

I started simple. I figure that I know (or ought to know) my family. Luckily for me, my family isn’t too big. There’s my immediate family, my aunts, uncles and cousins, and those who have married into the family, as well as their extended family, whom I have met and would probably be able to pick me out of a police line-up.

After that, it got a whole lot harder. Here’s my short-list of groups:

  • Close family friends
  • Neighbours and community members
  • Work (colleagues, clients, suppliers)
  • School (colleagues, professors and administrators)
  • Social (sports teams, social clubs)
  • Online (social meida, blogs)

Then I started to realize that there may be people who I would still consider a contact but I haven’t connected with in a long time. A great example are some friends I recently got in touch with from Australia. These are guys that I went to high-school with back in 1993-94 who I last spoke with in 2000 and who, through the wonders of Facebook, I wrote to last month and, despite the length of time we haven’t communicated, were happy to hear from me (or so they say) and would like to get together with to catch up when I’m down there. Although they wouldn’t fit the Killworth and Bernard criteria, I would still count these as people that I know.

Finally, I thought, what about people that I know who don’t know me? I can think of several examples, specifically from my work life, of people (let’s say speakers at conferences), who I have had dealings with and who I would consider that I know, but they may not say the same about me. Maybe they would recognize my name, or my face. However, taken out of context they wouldn’t be able to put the two together. Would that still be considered someone I “know?” This type of “knowing” someone is further illustrated through social networks like twitter, where you follow someone and get to know them (in a certain way) through their outgoing communication, but who may not follow you back.

It’s certainly a daunting task to determine who you know. I can appreciate the challenge that Killworth and Bertnard had to deal with in order to determine the parameters of their study.  Through this process, I have determined that there is no way that I could actually come up with a specific number of people that I know. This is for two reasons: 1) because the criteria for determining who I know is impossible to determine and 2) because I’m limited by my memory. I’m sure that even when thinking about my family, I’ve left out certain people who I would definitely say that I know, but I won’t remember that until I see them or hear from them next.

Offline sources:

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press


Network Activism

Yesterday’s “The Day We Fight Back” was, some say, underwhelming. Although nearly 250,000 signatures on thedaywefightback.org is significant, it does not seem to be eliciting the same type of response that we have seen with other online campaigns. Most notably, the mass blackout of websites in 2012 in response to SOPA and PIPA .

Wikipedia SOPA (flickr cc Search Influence) http://flic.kr/p/beW8RZ

Wikipedia SOPA (flickr cc Search Influence) http://flic.kr/p/beW8RZ

Do you remember seeing this image when you went to Wikipedia on January 8, 2012? Did you see anything like this when you went to Wikipedia yesterday? It is hard to match the visceral power of starting at a black page with white lettering telling you that you won’t be able to use the service if these acts are successful. In contrast, a pop-up bar at the bottom of the page you came to see is pretty easy to ignore.

Part of the challenge is in the difference between the threat of something that might happen in the future vs. something that is happening right now that you wouldn’t have noticed had someone not told you about it. In a great article by Lance Ulanoff on Mashable.com entitled We Were Supposed to Fight Back Yesterday? I Didn’t get the Memo, he outlines a several ideas about why this was a “failed” campaign (look harder at that url link: http://mashable.com/2014/02/12/the-day-we-fight-back-fail/). Ulanoff notes the stark contrast in the way that notification was handled, specifically by Wikipedia.

One other point that Ulanoff makes, which is echoed in George Arthur’s article I mentioned yesterday, is the fact “Those who did organize and fight back are the people who have already been doing so.” This made me start to wonder how Charles Kadushin (2012) or Yochai Benkler (2006) would view the situation.

Kadushin might talk about how the groups and individuals acted too much like a clique, in which all parties are more or less connected to each other. The lack of bridging connections (perhaps with mainstream media) may account for why there was not enough coverage or not a great enough understanding of the importance of the event. Benkler might add that there was not enough of a foundation on which the teeming masses could collaborate and build. Arthur and Ulanoff would probably agree with both of them.

The good news is that the perceived “failure” of the campaign is now becoming news! Coverage of the difficulties observed is picking up, which is continuing to raise awareness of the campaign. Perhaps this is a shift in online activism. Perhaps we’ll see a Shai LaBeouf type of “failure on purpose” attempt to gain some attention in the future – perhaps he is a ground-breaking artist.

Offline References:

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks : How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press

The Day We Fight Back


Today is “The Day We Fight Back” against mass surveillance. There are several ways that you can get involved:

In Canada, visit: https://thedaywefightback.ca

In the US, visit: https://thedaywefightback.org

The campaign is getting very little in the way of traction in mainstream media. At the time of writing, there is no coverage on any of the major Canadian news sites (CBC, The National Post, The Globe & Mail), nor international sites like CNN or BBC. An great article by George Arthur in the Digital Journal provides a good overview of the issues at hand, but also identifies several reasons why the coverage might be minimal, including a lack of structure or a refined message to help communicate the ideals of the campaign. Despite this issue, over 213,000 signatures have been added to the online petition, and now that the work-day is over, it’s time to increase that number substantially!

Here’s a nifty infographic from http://thedaywefightback.ca:

DayWeFightBackCSECpalace_650x500_040214 (1)

Is this blog post good enough?

After watching the following TED talk by Clay Shirky, Institutions vs. Colaboration, his concluding sentence has really stuck with me: “If we can see it in advance and know it’s coming… we might as well get good at it.”

Shirky is talking about what he sees as the transition between the traditional organization of labour inside a company to a more collaborative framework. I don’t dispute his conclusion, but it makes me wonder whether the idea of “getting good” at something is enough in today’s world. I’m sure that it wasn’t Shirky’s intention to suggest that we should only become “good enough,” but taking it slightly out of context in this way raises some interesting questions.

With so much flying at us in today’s connected world, it is difficult to master everything. I’ve found that I’ve had to pick and choose what I want to spend time on in order to “get good enough” at it in order to not feel like I’m making a complete mess of things. Added to this is the public nature of connecting on-line, which adds to the pressure of representing yourself effectively. Gillian Edwards, in her blog post “Are You Handsome Enough to Work Here” outlines how the important perception is, even if it shouldn’t be. Edwards gives the example of a study (Busetta et. al., 2013) in which different pictures were attached to identical resumes in order to find out whether the picture had a positive or negative effect on call-backs (it did). This is just one illustration of the importance of presentation, whether used to positive or negative effect. Extrapolating this resume example into the on-line world, any information that you provide can have a detrimental effect on your chances of success.

Interaction is key when building networks. In Kadushin’s Understanding Social Networks,  he states “Interaction generally leads to positive sentiments; these sentiments in turn lead to further interaction” (p. 75). So we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We must manage our profiles carefully, while still being open to any and all interaction. This leads me back to Shirky’s statement. If we are to present ourselves properly, how “good” is good enough? Also, if your visual presentation is scrutinized more than your content, on what levels must you be “good enough?”

There are differing opinions about when “good enough” is appropriate and when it isn’t. According to Jay Elliott, a former vice-president at Apple, for Steve Jobs, “‘good enough’ is never good enough” (2011). An article on Inc.com declares that “Sometimes good enough is good enough” (Paley, 2013). Meanwhile Grant Wiggins, writing on Educational Leadership, tries to determine exactly how good is good enough (2014). The ambiguity of the word “good” doesn’t lend itself specifics, so the arguments tends to go around in circles.

I’m sure that there is a very long essay sitting here in front of me. However, I don’t like my chances of trying to determine, once and for all, what “good enough” is in a blog post. Here’s what I’ve taken away from Shirky’s talk, which might point to how we can get over the challenges facing us. The traditional, institutional world, looked at us like a resume. Everything facing the scrutineers was specific and individual. Attach a picture and that seems to have been the sole criteria for inclusion. Now, with our on-line persona, we are considered in light of our connections, under a collaborative lens. Leo Urrutia just wrote a great post called “Go, Network!” in which he outlines how this collaborative model aught to work (I’m not saying that it does, yet). Eventually, we may be considered in light of our contributions to the group. Using the resume example, it will not be a picture of us, individually that will make the difference, it will be the picture of our cohort.


Edwards, G. (February 5, 2014) Are you Handsome Enough to Work Here? Retrieved from: http://gillianedwardsyyc.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/are-you-handsome-enough-to-work-here/

Elliot, J. (May 2, 2011) Steve Jobs: “Good Enough” is Never Good Enough. Sources of Insight. Retrieved from: http://sourcesofinsight.com/steve-jobs-good-enough-is-never-good-enough/

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press

Paley, E. (September 2013) Sometimes Good Enough is Good Enough. Inc 5000. Retrieved from: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201309/eric-paley/no-product-can-be-perfect.html

Shirky, C. (2005) Institutions vs. Collaboration Retrieved from: http://youtu.be/sPQViNNOAkw

Urrutia, L. (February 5, 2014) Go, Network! Retrieved from: http://oleurrutia.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/go-network/

Wiggins, G. (December 2013/January 2014) How Good is Good Enough? Educational Leadership. Volume 71, Number 4. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec13/vol71/num04/How-Good-Is-Good-Enough%C2%A2.aspx

Network Trauma with New Fauna

I’m sure that over the next few months, people are going to start getting tired of me talking about Australia. Sure, we’re moving there for a year. Sure, it’s going to be some kind of life-changing event. But who will think about the poor networks? The poor, poor networks.

On the one hand, with the ability to stay connected through Social Media, blogging, emails, and Skype, the potential damage is mitigated to some degree. It certainly won’t be like it was the first time I did something like this in 1994. I recall receiving about five letters from friends back in Canada during that whole year and phone calls were out of the question (my friends and I were 15 at the time, we didn’t interact in a meaningful manner (Corner Gas reference)). Now, I’m sure, there are people that I’ll be able to continue “talking” with on a day-to-day basis. For some people the routine won’t even really be that different than it is now, since we’ll be using the exact same tools. The only difference being the influence of time zones.

However, it does raise the question that, despite these modern conveniences, there may well be some damage done to the networks that I am a part of. First and foremost, to the relationships I have with the people that I do see, face-to-face every day. This will probably be mostly felt in my office, which really is a second-home. Despite the fact that I will most likely be in touch on a regular basis, and the fact that much of our interaction occurs by email or instant message, there will still be that missing propinquity (my new favourite word from Kadushin). We will no longer share the location-based awareness that is required for this type of connection.

For my part, this process will certainly remove many of the support networks that allow me to feel comfortable and safe. Even Kadushin agrees that “The apparently neat distinction between feeling safe and reaching out becomes muddled in modern society” (p. 58). Although that feeling of safety from the traditional networks is no longer there, there will certainly be a greater impetus to create new networks to provide that foundation. Perhaps this will propel me toward being a bit more outgoing, which doesn’t hurt in any regard. The overlay of new networks on top of the old will lead to additional changes. I think that the best scenario is one in which I am able to maintain my old networks, develop new networks and become one of those bridging connections I’ve been hearing so much about (p. 103).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Here’s the fauna who I will be working on incorporating into my new networks:

Anthony Cramp: Red Kangaroo

Anthony Cramp: Red Kangaroo (Flickr CC): http://flic.kr/p/3erMkk


Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press

Outsourcing Education by Importing Students

Ottawa Aims to Boost International Students from Six Priority Regionshttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-aims-to-boost-international-students-from-six-key-countries/article16344061/ – James Bradshaw

I appreciate that our institutions need to be desirable for international students. I appreciate that Canada and our institutions of higher learning need to remain competitive on the world stage. I can even accept that it’s worth spending a bit of money to do this. What boggles my mind is that less than a year ago, this was the headline:

Canadian Universities Feel the Squeeze of Spending Cuts: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/canadian-universities-feel-the-squeeze-of-spending-cuts/article9582355/ – also James Bradshaw

Now, what type of learning environment are we going to be inviting these international students to participate in? Exactly how are we going to market our under-funded institutions to international students? I can’t help wonder if their strategy might be a bit backward, although I appreciate that the not-so-subtle intention is to help our under-funded institutions by having more international students paying several times the tuition fees of Canadian students.

I must note here that the government announcement today was Federal, while the operating grant cuts to institutions like the Uniersity of Alberta were provincial. However, both are directed at the same institutions.

I would hazard a guess that it would make more sense to market well-funded, high-quality education to international students. It also might not hurt to support Canadian students, who can then go out into the world with a first-class education and make a difference – and probably bring back some economic prosperity, to boot.

Perhaps I am business-challenged. When I hear that the government “will spend $5 million annually on education marketing abroad,” I wonder what that kind of funding that would have meant for Canadian students. I also wonder how beneficial that funding would have been if put back into our research institutions. I think it would be wonderful marketing, and a pretty good PR move, for the government to fund world-class research in Canada. A breakthrough in any number of fields provides it’s own kind of marketing, probably international in these days of instant communication, and leads not only to increased recognition, but could also ripple outward far more easily than a poster on a bus in one of the six specific regions the government is targeting.

Just a few thoughts…

Blank Page

I’m not sure why, but apparently I can’t handle having a blank page just sitting there, waiting for something to be added to it. Something new I’ve learned as I move into the blogosphere – I’m sure it won’t be the last!